Liverpool: Like the rest of the footballing world, Jurgen Klopp had his doubts. Given the scenario — the big first-leg deficit, the presence of Lionel Messi on the other side, injuries to important players — the Liverpool manager just wasn’t sure, deep down, that his team could come back from 3-0 down to beat Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals.
So he laid down a challenge.
“I said to the boys before the game, ‘I don’t think it’s possible, but because it’s you I think we have a chance. Because you have the mentality of giants,’” Klopp said, recalling some of his final words before kick-off on arguably the greatest night of football in Anfield history.
That Liverpool managed to pull off the most unlikely of 4-0 victories in the second leg is a testament not only to the quality of the team Klopp has put together but also the belief he has instilled in a group of players who don’t know when they are beaten.
They’ve shown it all season. The late goals — however bizarrely they have come — in wins over Everton, Tottenham and, most recently, Newcastle have kept Liverpool in the Premier League title race with Manchester City to the final weekend.
The backs-to-the-wall 1-0 win over Napoli in the final group game in the Champions League, which sent the Reds through courtesy of the head-to-head tiebreaker of goals scored.
The mental fortitude to rebound from losing to Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League final in the most painful way, certainly for Mohammad Salah after his first-half shoulder injury in that match.
So maybe the comeback against Barcelona was natural for this machine that Klopp has created, albeit one that has yet to win a trophy under the German coach.
And it feels entirely justified that if Liverpool are to fall short in the Premier League — the team are one point behind City with a game to play — they still have the chance to end the season with some silverware in a competition that has become so synonymous with this storied English club, five-time European champions.
“I am really happy having another chance to get things right,” Klopp said, referring to the 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in Kiev. “Last year, we felt we have to go back, we cannot let it stand like this. I am not sure it will happen again, so it’s so special.”
For Klopp, it is a chance to end his six-match run of losses in cup finals stretching back to the 2013 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich, when he was coach of Borussia Dortmund. Since then, he has lost two German Cup finals with Dortmund and then three title matches with Liverpool — in the English League Cup (2016), the Europa League (2016), and last year’s Champions League.
Together, Liverpool will to Madrid for the final, feeling it’s their destiny to win European football’s biggest prize for the sixth time.